Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Jan 08 - The Compound: Hospital Side

Jan 08 - The Compound: Hospital Side

Just through the gate that separates the hospital from residential parts of the compound is the garden, a place of brick paths, some of them unfinished or broken, some landscaping with flowering bushes or plants bunched together to resemble bushes, and a couple of young trees, that has spots of beauty, but that few patients or staff visit because it's not in the shade. By 9 o'clock, it's frequently too hot to seek comfort or peace by walking the paths, or resting on the couple of concrete benches which are through most of the day in direct sunlight. I didn't make note of the temperature too often, but I did notice, one afternoon, a thermometer in the shade reading 90 F°.

The right side of the compound is devoted to the hospital itself, which could then be further divided into the old buildings and the empty shells of the new buildings, which just sit with tired hope. The old buildings, the only ones really worth describing, consist of Administration with the Pharmacy, the Cashier, Dental and Lab; "The Bloc" which contains the Operating Room, Pre-Op, and storage; Pediatrics; Obstetrics which has the outdoor worship chapel/waiting area; and Patient Beds. In addition there are a few latrines and "The Garage" which is a storehouse for equipment, tools, diesel for the generators that power the whole compound (which are just behind the Garage), and bats.

Most patients wait outside under the trees to see medical personnel, and their family may wait with them. Some of them camp for days for a referral, or if they're surgery is delayed, or their treatment simply takes time. It is a constant minor medical refugee camp full of Gumbai, Nanjirai, Arabs, and the colorfully dressed Fulani who are further distinguished by their tattooed faces. Women wash clothes at the outdoor spigots, men wait expectantly talking to someone on their cell phone, children cry in their mothers' arms, someone might be sitting with the chaplain on the old hospital bed under the tree by the latrines.

The pharmacy and cashier windows are right next to each other, and there's always a crowd in front of each window. At either, you might present your fiche, your paperwork or your carnet, health booklet. The health booklet is a portable medical record that each person holds onto. It is crucial in the Chadian health system, so of course most people don't have one or tend to lose track of it. In it a doctor, physician or nurse will make notes of treatment, write a pharmacy scrip, record a consultation, make a referral, or write out a course of treatment for a patient to follow. They are glorified notepads, but you can't get certain treatment without an official Chadian carnet.

So you might see your doctor, and she'll write out a scrip in your carnet to take the cashier and pharmacy, but there's a little bit of a language barrier so you accidentally stand in line at the pharmacy waiting/pushing through the crowd to the front, and the pharmacy tells you to go to cashier first, then you wait/push through to cashier, pay what you hope is the fair amount (sometimes a problem …), then you're sent back to wait at pharmacy where they look at your scrip and tell you the hospital doesn't have any more of that medicine and to go back to the doctor. It is anyone's guess whether you will see the money you already paid for the medicine you never received. In addition there are tragically necessary signs around the hospital translated roughly as: "Pay ONLY the cashier; do not pay ANYONE else."

Down the hall from the pharmacy and cashier is the "dentist's" office. As previously mentioned, Zach, with no previous dentistry experience (his dentist father notwithstanding) is the local dentist. The only dental service the hospital currently offers is Zach looking into a mouth, and if a tooth (or teeth) is rotten it is pulled. Occasionally, he'll call over someone from the Bloc to do a quick local anesthetic, but not usually. Zach can also offer advice about dental care (which also features prominently in his public health lecture), but that's where his limits lie. Naomi serves as his assistant, providing suction—so "they don't choke on their own spit" as Charis puts it—and translation.

The Bloc will get described in greater detail when I write about the case I observed, in a blog entry I'll title "Barefoot in the OR" but it's a one bed Surgery (two if Drs. Danae and Bland decide they're behind and need to cram) with a Pre-Op where additional surgery might also occur if the hospital is slammed. Dr. Bland truly does the lion's share of the surgery, but Dr. Danae works there quite frequently sometimes alongside her father. Mason's at the head of the bed; first assist to the surgeon is often the Chadian doctor who lives on the compound, but Charlie the visiting resident has been taking turns there while he's here, and then there are three male nurses, including Jeremy: provider of the chicken.

The patient ward is best described in Mason's words: "unlit parking garages." Mason and Dr. Danae often have to fight to get the nurses to provide the necessary follow up care to surgery. There are no blankets for patients unless the family provides them. Other than to spend a moment praying at the foot of the bed of Jessica's first patient in Bere, I spent little time in the parking garage. Considering how the importance of prayer and that "visiting the sick" is one of the corporal works of mercy, I should have spent much more time there and in Pediatrics. I imagine and hope that on future trips, that will be my priority, but it took me until about the end of our trip to realize it's where I should be focused and that anything else was secondary.

Pediatrics may be more depressing for it is likewise dingy and dirty, but it is perhaps more obviously so with the dust and stains over someone's attempt to brighten the place with wall murals of smiling bees and flowers and happy clouds on blue skies, while flies buzz around the children's faces; and while the sounds of suffering adults is saddening, the sound of so many children in pain is heart-breaking. However, there may be more hope in the sight of a child recovering, even smiling, in Pediatrics. It was there that my most heartfelt prayers went out, and I've missed so many moments of grace by not spending more time there.

Jan 08 – The Compound, Residential Side

Jan 08 – The Compound, Residential Side

Our first day in Bere was pretty laid back, starting with coffee and cinnamon toast with peanut butter at the McDowells.  Bread and peanut butter are a bit of a staple on the compound as there aren't a lot of sanitary protein choices to be had: peanut butter, eggs and beans are pretty much it. You can get meat—goat and chicken—but you want to make sure that the animal in question was killed that day, in front of you, to truly assure that it's fresh. For the McDowells, this job falls to Solomon their cook, who pretty much showed up on their doorstep looking for work the day after they arrived, as he had been cook for a previous couple who had lived on the compound.

I don't know if any jealousy ensued on the compound, but it's generally agreed that Solomon is the best local family cook, and I'll say his cooking his excellent. Part of our stay included lunch everyday at the McDowell's, and after the first lunch Jessica declared Solomon's food as good as any restaurant's. All of his bean dishes were great, but his spaghetti sauce (called Sauce D'Emmie, after the McDowells' younger daughter) and pizza are superbly excellent.

We also received home-baked bread from the McDowells, one loaf from the wife of Dr. Bland on the compound, and a couple almost baguette-esque loaves from Moundou, the nearest large town, two hours away. They were all tasty, but with zero preservatives tend to get stale pretty quickly. This meant eating the bread quickly, keeping it in the fridge, and making French toast with it toward the end of the loaf's life.

Instant Nescafe can be bought here, but not grounds or whole beans, so those are a regular part of care packages for the McDowells, and I was definitely glad we brought some. Jessica had brought some single-serve creamers for coffee, but the local option is a spoonful of powdered milk, the only real dairy option here since hardly anyone in Bere has refrigeration. One can get cheese and butter in Moundou. At home, I can take my scooter to Ingles in about five minutes there and back for decently fresh milk, butter and cheese in such variety that it should make anyone's head spin; here you travel four hours for cheese and butter that is what you get. 

After breakfast, Kim took us on a tour of the compound. Facing the compound from the road, it is divided left and right into residential and hospital sides, respectively. On the residential side live the American missionaries: Dr. Olen and Dr. Danae, husband and wife, general practitioner and obstetrics respectively with their three kids Lyol, Zane, and Addison; Dr. Rolland Bland, a GP who is the primary surgeon here, and his wife Dolores who are Danae's parents; Mason, Nurse Anesthetist and Kim (our hosts) with their daughters Maddie and Emmie; Zach our trusted guide from N'Djamena who is part-time dentist (no previous experience, not counting that his father is a dentist in the U.S.) a public health worker alongside Charis, another public health missionary. Two other American student missionaries, Mickey and Zachary, live off compound with local families who live almost adjacent to the compound walls. Mickey serves primarily as a nurse and Zachary is an engineering student who helps out with all sorts of projects, but seems focused on building up the computer systems here. Charlie, who came in on the bus with us, is also staying off compound with a family, so he can get the full Chadian experience during the month he's here (and boy did he!).

Three Chadian families live on the compound as well, who, admittedly, I did not get to know as well separated as we were by the language barrier. One family is a doctor nurse husband and wife team, another the husband is a doctor, and the final Chadian family is the hospital administrator. It has been hard to tell how the power structure of the hospital goes, as the Americans, especially Olen and Danae, seemed to be where the buck stopped, but the administrator holds frequent morning meetings with the staff, but whether to disseminate the Americans' orders, or somewhat independently, I was never completely sure.

A good number of Chadians who don't live there can be found on the Residential side of the compound with any number of other reasons. Wa'ye and Mohammed were the night and day gate guards; Mohammed we of course saw anytime we went in or out of the gate, but he was also often seen playing with any of the children who happened to be on the compound at any given time.  Solomon is Kim and Mason's cook, of course, and Bebe is their housekeeper who Kim hired after Bebe with her daughter came in for the Infant Nutrition Program and her daughter died. Selene is a laundress for several of the families, and graciously added our laundry to the mix, which she cleans at a cement trough with bar soap and a hose (soap provided by the patron).

The soap la savon Azur, by the way, is a four-inch cube, and is used for laundry, dishwashing, and hand washing here. It's pretty neutral smelling and pretty effective at cleaning, though without hot water and machine agitation, it's cleansing properties are limited. This soap, it turns out, is now a traditional gift among Chadians on the occasion of a birth. We bought for Jeremy, Jessica's friend in the OR who got her the cock, 3 bars of les savons because his wife is expecting shortly after we leave.

One might also see on the residential side, the Adventist School administrators and teachers; Naomi (the ten strong polyglot) who works as dental assistant to Zach and translator when he and Charis go out to the villages; the teenagers Allah and Appolinaire, "Appo," who have been associated with the compound one way or another for years (Allah is especially prominent in the life of the compound); and the constant stream of people who come to the families asking for cadeaux "gifts" to form friendships (asking for a gift is a perfectly acceptable way to start a friendship here) or just for the help which so many need.

Jan 07 Last bus to Bere

Jan 07 Last bus to Bere

After Zach collected Charley, another Seventh Day Adventist volunteer, from the airport, we headed to the bus depot to catch the bus to Bere. Charley's a med student in his fourth year of residency. Next year he goes to Hawaii to work for the Army. He likes to ride motorcycles, gets Star Wars and Monty Python residences and seems to be a fairly decent guy. So it seems a little unfair that the guy's arrived to find out his luggage got misplaced somewhere between the U.S. and Chad.

But trooper that he was, he got through immigration, the police and banking without a word of French (he's spent more time in Latin America so his Spanish is decent, but he's been very willing to learn bits of French here and there to smooth the way in Chad), and he was much lighter in traveling on the bus than we were with our four pieces of luggage and two carry-on bags. The wait at the bus depot was longish, for in Chad the bus waits until it's full. There's an approximate time when it's "scheduled" to leave, but if the bus thinks more passengers will arrive, then it will wait until they come.

The bus depot was just as lively as any other part of N'Djamena, with merchants walking up to passengers to hawk their wares: toothpaste and toothbrushes, clothes, flashlights, and food. Jessica bought some bread to have with us for dinner or breakfast the next day, and I bought some crickets. At first I thought the woman was selling some kind of hot pepper out of her basket, and when I asked Zach, he laughed and told me they were fried crickets (and told me they were supposed to take like popcorn, not that he knew from personal experience), but Charley pointed out they were as large as grasshoppers, really. They were fried, spiced, sprinkled with lime juice and wrapped in a piece of newspaper. The first five were okay, though I learned not to eat the back legs--too tough and pointy--but the sixth one was just too much oil and I had to stop. Jessica didn't even try one. In Bere, I learned there was a spot where one could leave decent uneaten food where it would get taken by the boys who played nearby, so I donated the last of my crickets to a better cause.

For about twenty minutes we were spoken to by a man who was either very drunk or suffering from some sort of mental illness, or both. His French was so muddled that Zach couldn't make it out, tough it seemed to have something to do with religion as Zach thought he asked us if we were Muslim at one point. He just kept talking at us though there was nothing we could do to reasonably respond. He wasn't asking for money or any other favors it seemed, but what he had to say, whatever it was seemed very urgent. During his time with us, an older blind man walked up to our group, his hand on the shoulder of a young boy who led him. Our drunken orator stopped his speech, reached into his robes and placed a coin in the boy's metal bowl. We did nothing.

About this point, Zach noticed the man's temple was bleeding, which the man seemed to take in stride, but someone, perhaps a station agent of some kind, came up and removed the man from our group, and we decided to get onto the bus.

The bus was much more like a Greyhound bus than I expected, and we were assured that we were on the cushy bus, and coming back it was unlikely we'd be afforded such nice transportation. The seats were comfortable enough, but the speaker system was on the border of torturous. At the front and midway down the aisle, about where we were sitting, were television monitors that showed videos of bloody Hong Kong action flicks, music videos--some of them quite scandalous for the usually conservatively modest Chadians--what appeared to be selections from auditions for Nigeria's version of The Voice, and even a Western action movie about soldiers fighting Muslim terrorists who appeared to be led by Osama Bin Laden. The last definitely caused me to raise my eyebrow, but no one else on the bus seem surprised or offended, considering the number of Muslims on the bus. The audio for these videos was loud, full of distortion and hiss and never turned off. I mentioned it was torturous, and actually on the bus ride, I told Jessica that I had read that some places will put prisoners in an uncomfortable room with the lights always on and terrible music playing 24 hours on blaring speakers as a form of torture and/will breaking before interrogation. Because of those infernal speakers, this was the only form of longer public transportation that we took that I simply could not sleep on, even when I desperately wanted to.

I mentioned the high volume of Muslims on the bus and our first stop after leaving N'Djamena was actually a combination call to prayer and bathroom break. All the women, children and non Muslims stayed on one side of the road to stretch or squat, some without shame within sight of everybody else (conservatively modest in SOME ways that is) while most of the men crossed the street to the mosque while "Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar!" poured from speakers attached to the mini-minarets. We made two other stops, one to get dinner, which we passed on, and another bathroom break. It was at this last stop that Jessica went the to bathrooms, "Ou est la douche?" and was handed her own plastic kettle of water in case she needed it for left-handed business. Alas, she did not need it, and so missed a rare cultural opportunity. I did not experience this toilet, though I heard it was pretty bad, even worse than the toilet at the bus depot which was the most rancid hole-in-the-ground pit I have ever encountered. I have been spoiled for most of this trip in terms of indoor western-style plumbing, and I've been okay with being spoiled so.

At one point the bus attendant handed out sodas to every passenger, which seemed an interesting gratuity or cadeaux on our trip, and Jessica and I got a try a rather tasty local orange soda. For most of the trip we watched movies on our own and tried to bear through Satan's Sound system.

We arrived in Kelo, the next town over from Bere, where Dr. Olen of the Adventist Hospital picked us up in his Toyota king-cab pickup. All our luggage went into the bed, and we crammed into the front. Two men from the bus were also going to Bere and hitched a ride with us, riding on top of the luggage. I can't imagine how they did it, for if the dust was bad in N'Djamena it was worse here, and I can only imagine magnified to what degree swirling up from the road across the men in the back.

The ride back I glimpsed within the headlights many a mud brick house, goats and cattle unattended, unfettered and unfenced, small fires just outside or inside the mud homes, people walking on the road, and a lone moto. We could barely see the river where the hippos live, though we saw no hippos that night, and heard they were the only wild animal left in the area for all the others had been eaten. 

Dr. Olen has quite a sarcastic sense of humor, so it was hard to tell how much of that last statement was true, but I have seen no wild animals beyond lizards and snakes, birds and bats here. People have(? unless it's tied to a tree outside someone home, which is quite rare, I can't tell how or if anyone really owns any of the livestock that wanders around) chickens and pigs, horses, donkeys and cattle, dogs and cats. Actually, our hosts had us bring along a cat door from the U.S. for their cats, which was one of the more amusing purchases to my mind.

Finally, after we'd been bumped and swerved around sand and hump-backed cattle, been passed a lot of what seemed to be barren land and too many broken mud hovels, and Dr. Olen said we'd made it halfway, we were suddenly at the compound, pulling into the gates in very solid brick walls surrounded rather nice houses with electricity and running water. We were greeted briefly by Kim, Jessica's professor's wife, shown to our quarters and we collapsed into bed, hopefully to rest enough to face whatever tomorrow, our first day in Bere, Chad, brought.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"You like the cock?"

This chicken was given to us this morning by one of Jessica's co-workers as a gesture of friendship after he checked that it would be a good gift with the subject line question.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Jan 06 - Buying and Selling in N'Djamena

After the police and bank, our business affairs in N'Djamena were complete. Zach still had to meet another incoming volunteer on the 7th, so we were staying the night in N'Djamena at "SILS." Zach wasn't completely sure what SILS's purpose was besides offer accommodations to foreign travelers, but it seemed to have something to do with making translations of works into the various Chadian languages, especially the Bible. There was an interesting poster in their office that said "Feeding the 3,000: Did you know there are 3,000 language groups without scripture in their native tongue?" The compound was walled, had running water with a tap of filtered water in each "apartment", mosquito nets for the beds, electricity that work most of the time, a guard at each of the two gates and a clean courtyard: all key parts of accommodation in Chad, and rare in most places.

Spending the night in the capital meant that we would get to take in more of the town than average volunteers, who usually leave on a bus to Bere the same day their flight arrives. This also meant that Zach got to show off what he knew about N'Djamena, a city he seems to really enjoy. He also seemed please that we were likewise ready to jump into the culture, wander around the city and try our hands at cultural experiences. The first of which was the bus or "Cart" (the 't' is silent). Imagine a minivan with 4 wooden benches behind the driver, each bench with 4 people crammed onto each bench, add a loud blaring radio, and the sound of horns and motos passing by within a hair's breadth of the bus, and you've got the basic idea of public transportation in N'Djamena. Zach, who picked up that I knew a little French, asked "Do you know the word for 'stop' in French?" "Um, arrete?" And with a smile Zach replied, "Yep, but on the bus you just yell 'Stop!'" It's an odd spot for this one common bit of English. We picked up our first cart just outside of the SILS compound by waving it down and headed back to the market, this time to wander around and take in the Marchet Central itself.

We actually just crossed through the Market pretty quickly. Truthfully, you wouldn't really be able to dawdle as everyone is crowded around everyone else buying and selling or moving to the next spot to buy and sell. The Grand Market reminded me a lot of Smiley's Flea Market just outside of Asheville, though many of the items were new and there were about equal parts produce and dry goods. Cell phones, cell phone parts, cell phone cases, and Tigo sim Cards were for sale everywhere ... even in Africa, I could not get away from cell phones, and with Tigo (the only major cell provider here) Jessica still checks her email immediately upon waking up before leaving the bed. There are mats, the plastic washing "kettles", lots of patterned cloth, jewelry, cheap bras without tags and styrofoam underwire inserts. Zach particularly pointed out the last and said that he had been told the bras and all underwear in Chad were especially bad. The other thing in the market were the beggar boys.

This was the first time we encountered children's almost universal desire to say hello to the N'saarah, but these children also had little metal bowls. If they asked us for money, it wasn't in French, but they were persistent in walking behind us through the market. At one point, Zach turned around and with a shooing motion said "Allez! Allez!" Go away! and cautioned us that sometimes you just have to tell them to leave. We encountered beggars throughout the city, boys, old men on mats, and one woman with a baby who told me she needed to eat that nearly made me cry. It is probably just as well that I was not in charge of the money while we were in N'Djamena or we likely would have never had any coins, and change is hard to come by as most places and merchants don't like dealing in the larger 5 000 and 10 000 CFA bills. It was hard not to give when asked and I muttered too often "Je suis desolee" I am very sorry to too many people the two days we were in the city.

In addition to the market there plenty of other shops around N'Djamena. I saw appliance shops (Super General brand sold here!), restaurants, bars, LOTS of hair stylists, and construction supplies shops. One popular shop was a place to charge your phone and exchange money for Tigo credit. Most people don't have power in their homes, so these charging stations are a staple. There are even two such stations in Bere, which is a fairly small town. Tigo credit, which covers minutes, texts, and data, is actually another form of currency in addition the CFAs here. Phones are almost like debit cards, and if you know someone's number you can transfer credits from your phone to theirs with a text message ("SMS" here) as payment for services rendered. There were also many roadside stands selling gateux, which Zach recommended to us, but only when freshly made in the morning, cigarettes (though I don't remember seeing anyone smoking), sodas, and more Tigo cards. 

One of my favorite sights in N'Djamena was the manicurists, usually boys around 12-14. As they walk the roadside (sometimes there's a sidewalk) they jingle their nail scissors in their hands as advertisement. When a patron needs a manicure, they stop and sit while the boy trims and cleans their nails right by the roadside.

Another common sight was a moto dealer. An interesting thing about motorcycle dealership laws in Chad: if you buy more than a hundred of a particular moto, you can slap whatever maker's label you want on the tank. Walking by a moto dealer's place you might see 4 or 5 different "makes" on exactly the same Chinese motorcycle. Chinese motorcycles are the most common in Chad, but Honda is the most popular make ... guess which labels you see on more Chinese motorcycles than any other? Most of the cars, on the other hand, are Toyotas, and from my limited knowledge, seem to be genuinely Toyotas.

Perhaps the most interesting market we saw we visited the next day before heading out on the bus. It was a touristy Artisinal Market of "Chadian" goods, most of them made in Cameroon (just across the border) according to Zach, but several of the items in leather he said were probably Chadian in origin. There were some interesting indigenous musical instruments, little hinged lid chests made from leather, leather elephant key-chain fobs that Jessica really liked, and some fairly nice jewelry. But man were the sellers pushy, pushier than anywhere else we've encountered in Chad. "Come look! Best price, best price! Look masks; here you hold, look. Very nice; best price!" at every single one of the dozen or so stalls. Zach didn't even want to go in it was so bad, and we trooped through on our own. That being said, we're planning on going back when we head back to N'Djamena before flying home, so some of you may end up with Chadian or Cameroonian doo-dads (no promises!).

Friday, January 16, 2015

Jan 06 - Shake, take, and give with your right hand! and other cultural mores

Jan 06 - Pt II Shake, take, and give with your right hand! and other cultural mores

I pretty quickly adopted Zach's constant wearing of sandals (except when Jessica and I run), so of course my feet are always dusty too. Almost everyone here wears some sort of sandals, so they frequently carry, or have at their doorways what looks like a large plastic tea kettle, often in bright colors, with a contrasting bright color dripped down the side, giving it an almost marbled look. These are filled with water and used throughout the day to deal with the dust and the general washing of hands. There was an old monastic practice that on every Thursdays evening, in honor of the Last Supper, one of the monks would wash all the other's feet as a physical expression of his willingness to service toward all. Thoughts: A) I now see the incredibly practical application of Jesus' actions B) that would be a faith-filled gentle gesture of service at any mission in such a dusty place to have a Thursday feet washing service in which the missionaries was the feet of the people C) if not feet washing (though Jesus does kind of command it, see John 13:14-15) wouldn't it be a beautiful household practice to have a Thursday evening rotating gesture of service to one another?

Back to N'Djamena. Presumably these plastic water kettles have another very important function ... washing one's backside. One of Zach's first bits of advice was "You guys haven't messed up so far , but always do everything with your right hand. Shake with your right; take with your right; give with your right hand. Never the left." This is because in almost all of the non-Westernized toilets, there's not toilet paper. Jessica, always scatological-minded wanted to know how this worked, so sitting in the Charlotte airport she looked up just how someone is supposed to use that left hand. The secret, by the way, is to wet your left hand first, otherwise the smell *sticks* around, then taking that kettle (or whatever cultural form it takes) you squat over the hole, pour the water down your crack (hopefully avoiding getting your pants soaked) and do what you need to do with the left to get clean. Then clean both hands REALLY well with the soap and you're good to go.

So it's with good reason that interacting with someone using your left hand is a pretty severe sign of disrespect. You are allowed to hold things with your left, so you can take with the right, pass it to your left hand, manipulate it as you need, pass it back to the right and hand it back. This is hard to remember, and I know I've insulted more than a couple people by handing them things with my left hand. I think they forgive the poor N'Saarah (foreigner, sp?) but still ...

Another cultural minefield is greeting people. If you're going to interact with someone for more than five seconds, or so, you must shake their hands (with your right hand!), and spend time asking after their day: "Ca va?" "Ca va, bien. Merci. Comment votre-sante?" "C'est Bien. Merci." If you don't, especially if you know the person, even casually, they will think you are mad at them. This can be hard when you are one of a handful of n'saarah (though we do all look alike) and you have met dozens of Chadians. Everyone knows you, and you are desperate to recognize them so as to be polite. You also must greet waiters, merchants, any villagers who show up to a public health lecture you're at, and almost every child you run across because most want to shake the hand of the n'saarah (which they will often yell at you as you go by if they are too afraid to shake your hand).

Children do not learn French until they go to school, so it's "La-pia" to all the young ones, which is Nanjirai one of the 200 tribal languages that exist in Chad. The largest language groups are Nanjirai, Gumbai, Arabic, Filani, and French kind of acts as a literal lingua franca among people, though it's more likely to be known by men than women, simply because men are more like to go to school than women. Some people here know an amazing amount of languages: Allah, who I will write more about later, speaks at least 4 (Nanjirai, Gumbai, French and English); Naomi, who acts as the primary translator for the hospital, speaks about 10!

So at the police station, our first major stop after the airport, walking past the Muslim men in the police compound at prayer on their prayer rugs, we greet and ask after each of the four women secretaries who take our information again, staple our extra passport photos to the forms, and wish us well. One of the women, through Zach, said "Hey, I'm from Bere!" (where we were headed) "Do you know ...?" This exchange among people is pretty common as connections are important, and apparently most people will search through several possible avenues of connection before they find one, and they almost always do. It's like six-degrees of Kevin Bacon for all of Chad.

January 06 pt I

January 06

I hope Jessica and I get a chance to visit Ethiopia one day, instead of just passing through the airport. If Ethiopian Air is any indication of the type of time we'd have there, it'll be fantastic, with great food, friendly people, and English! Don't get me wrong, I've been enjoying stretching my French chops while here in Chad, but sometimes the language gap is tough even for those who have been here a while. The airport in Addis Ababa was very efficient, directing us immediately off the plane to our next gate which would take us to N'Djamena, the capital of Chad. The airport was well-worn, especially by U.S. standards, and the bathrooms were our first smell of third-world toilets, though the airport toilet was no worse than those of some bars I've been in.

Our last leg of air travel was fairly short and uneventful, though we did have a meal, which as all meals on Ethiopian Air, was delicious. Then we were at the N'Djamena airport, but before even entering the airport our first stop was at the door to get our temperature taken with an infrared thermometer. Dad, you can add "check for Ebola" to your list of uses for your IR Thermometer. It was inside the N'Djamena airport that we encountered our first language challenge: Immigration. Thanks be to God for the two semesters of high school French that I took, and the helpfulness of the guards. Helpfulness or impatience, it was hard to tell at times, but either way they helped us fill out our information tickets, get our fingerprints scanned and figure out the address of the L'Hospital Adventiste de Bere. One guard truly was simply helpful without impatience, and as he said to me "I speak little English; you speak little French; we do okay."

We left Immigration and entered the circus. Luggage retrieval was a madhouse of shouts and thrown bags, offers to help carry your bags, and guards demanding you put your bags through a last barrage of x-rays before entering the country. Jessica thinks I should be more aggressive, or I'll just end up stuck in Baggage Claim Limbo, but we seem to have gotten through okay. Actually, at one point we thought we were going to be delayed when a woman grabbed one of our bags coming out of the x-ray machine, presumably to search it. But before she could, someone who we assume was her supervisor, told her to give back the bag and let it be.

Outside the airport (past the guards with the machine guns) and into N'Djamena. I don't know about you, but being in the airport at a particular place doesn't actually count as fully arriving. They are universally a place between places, being neither here or there. So sadly, I don't feel I can count Ethiopia on my list of places I've been to, even though technically I was in the country for a few hours. But now we were in Chad and under the careful guidance of Zach from the hospital.

Zach (as opposed to Zachary who is also a Adventist volunteer at the hospital, or Zacharia, who was hired to work on the computers at the hopsital) greeted us with a smile and a "BAH" (Bere Adventist Hospital) sign. We were not long for chit chat as his hired taxi driver had already grabbed one of the bags, Zach took the other and we were off to the cab. Zach, to my mind, looks very much like a typical seasoned American overseas worker/missionary. He keeps a crewcut, wears sandals constantly, loose slacks and a short-sleeved button down shirt, half the time the shirt is made with a locally patterned cloth. He has been a wealth of information which he offers with his running commentary and in answer to any questions. His French is "functional French" as he calls it: he is able to make known his intent, he is able to understand most things spoken to him.

Our walk to the cab was hot and dusty ... you can pretty much sprinkle the word "dusty" between every third or fourth word after this and every subsequent Chadian blog post by the way. That should give you a pretty accurate description of things. January is part of the dry season in Chad. Essentially it rains for 8 months here, and then completely arid the other 4. I'm not noticing it as much now, but for the first few days everything smelled and tasted of dust. I'm sure Jessica and I will probably smell of it for a few days after we get back, so be sure to drop by the apartment soon after we get back to get the sensory experience part of the blog.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Flying to Africa - January 5th

We are time travelers, having passed through an entire solar day in a matter of hours by traveling from West to East in a 777 Boeing. Over the Atlantic Ocean, I have never seen such darkness as I saw outside of my window. Only once have I seen a speck of light that may have been a lone freighter within sight of no other lights that I could spy. Earlier, when there was daylight, there was the vast emptiness of the ocean itself that somehow seemed frozen in time. On the beach it is in constant motion, from however many tens of thousands of feet in the air we were, it appears unsettlingly motionless Other times there were "snow drifts" of clouds below the plane as far as my eyes could see. Can you tell I had the window seat?

To add to the slightly surreal quality of it all--because Jessica and I purposely got only a few hours of sleep last night before leaving Asheville at 1:30am--I have seen these dreamlike vistas as I drift in and out of sleep, often waking up to a whole new alien world. I wonder, considering these new domains, if this is what interstellar travelers will experience if some kind of suspended animation is involved.

Continuing the alien worlds theme, I felt a bit like Luke Skywalker walking into the Mos Eisley Cantina the first time when we reached the Ethiopian Air terminal at Dulles in D.C. I caught a smattering of French, but everything else was a wild polyglot polyphony. Jessica lamented not understanding hardly anyone, sad that she couldn't know what had made someone smile, or a child laugh.

Most of the travelers seem a happy bunch. Most seem to be returning home, several as families but plenty of individuals as well. One such individual standing by the Ethiopian Air counter, an older man dressed in a nice somewhat faded brown suit, asked us, "Are you going to Ethiopia?" We told him we were on our way to Chad, and he smiled and said, with only good hearted pride of home, "Ah, Ethiopia is better."

Most of the passengers are dressed no differently from your average american, especially the men, but there's a woman with beautiful piece of beaded jewelry that frames one woman's face, several head scarves, and dresses in prints you wouldn't normally see on the racks at Gap. Adjusting my bag while going through the jetway, I was startled at the sight of the gentleman behind me, and hid a smile. I motioned Jessica to look back and we both had to share a smile over the solemn African man wearing a very festive Mexican sombrero. "Where's your traveling hat?" Jessica asked.

The "Boeing Triple Seven," as the nice british man in the safety video called it, is the largest plane I've ever been on. It feels incredibly spacious and roomy, not like the Greyhound Busses with wings that I'm used to. In some ways, it almost feels like a long narrow movie theater that we're all patrons of, though instead of a large screen, we each have a small screen built into the headrest of the seat in front of us.

Jessica notes its the most family friendly flight she can remember taking. The front-most seats of the economy class face a bulkhead and for those with infants, there are basinets that hook onto the wall, large enough to serve as changing tables, which is how it was used several times on the flight. On our flight from Charlotte to Dulles, there was a couple with an infant who realized just before take-off that their child needed a change of diaper. The stewardess, told them to hurry from their cramped economy seats to the cramped bathroom at the rear of the plane (hurrying, it turns out, wasn't necessary as that particular flight was delayed taking off by 40 mins, which thankfully caused us no problems). People are also very free to move about the cabin, and people walking up and down the aisles visiting friends or family. Babies are passed over seat-backs, and while no children run around the plane, parents walk them up and down the aisle when they get a little stir-crazy.

Considering the number of languages and skin tones on the flight, we probably could have ended up with just about anyone from anywhere in Africa to fill the empty seat. But instead we get Lincoln from Tennessee who's as white as I am. Coincidentally or Providentially, his former Youth Pastor is now lead Pastor at Highland Church that worships at the Orange Peel in Asheville. Lincoln is headed to Ethopia to live there for a year and a half working with the Ordinary Hero mission to find adoptive parents for kids there. On the flight he read Mere Christianity, making copious marginal notes, and My Utmost for His Highest, which I recognize as a popular Protestant spiritual work. I feel right at home in this row reading St. Theresa of Avila just a few seats over.

At 5:30pm Asheville time, it was dark as we were over the Dark Continent at late night. It's not quite a solidly dark land below as there are clusters of electric lights, but they are isolated clusters with utter darkness in between. The roads connecting the groups of lights are not lit, and I can only occasionally pick one out by the few vehicle headlights I see tracing a path by connecting their points of light like the handle of the Big Dipper. It almost makes the amount of streetlights in the U.S. obscene, lighting our gluttonous need for constant transport of goods that necessitates how much we light our highways.

Occasionally, distant from any constellation of lights that represents a town (I'm assuming), will be a solitary point of light. I can't help wonder at the story of these single stars, and what people live within its lonely glow.